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Succession introduces the Bizarro Roys in "Tern Haven"

Holly Hunter and Cherry Jones
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)
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Guys, what happened to Shiv in London? I bring that up now because, though it’s not explicitly mentioned again after the intro, the weight of whatever happened seems to loom like a storm cloud over “Tern Haven.” Maybe I’m just being paranoid and Shiv’s shattered confidence is just residue from the way Logan downplayed her last week, but she seems on shakier ground at the top of this episode than she did at the end of the last one, which makes me feel like, in what would be a very un-Succession-like move, we’re going to go back and revisit whatever it was that happened there. I feel like it might have something to do with whatever it was that made her such a mess when she and Tom first met, a nugget of personal history she revealed last season. Sarah Snook mentioned in some interview that I can’t find at this moment that we’d soon get a glimpse of just what it was that initially brought them together, and I am very, very intrigued.


Anyways, regardless of what brought it on, insecurity is a fresh look on her. Since the first episode, Shiv’s exuded a confidence that colored her dealings with family, her love life, and her maneuvers through politics. The only thing that’s really shaken her up so far is the prospect of a monogamous marriage with Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), something she quickly remedied. Such is the power of Logan (Brian Cox), I suppose, who refuses to publicly announce Shiv as his successor, not when she asks urges him to at the top of the episode and not when Nan Pierce (Cherry Jones) tries to make it part of their acquisition deal. “That’s not quite how I do things,” Logan intones.

But let’s rewind for a second: Tern Haven is the name of the Pierce estate, the setting for most of this week’s episode, and, though it’s no Austerlitz, it certainly helps distinguish the PGM overlords from the Roys. Where the Roys are all glass, steel, and swears, the Pierces are wood, candlelight, and classic literature. It’s new money vs. old money, and it makes for some amusing cultural clashes between the brutish Roys and the lyrical Pierces, who meet while striding towards each other in a scene that can’t help but evoke “The Bizarro Jerry.”

Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen, Hiam Abbass, Alan Ruck, and J. Smith Cameron
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

Anyways, as Gerri (J. Smith Cameron) informs us, the “whole edifice” of the Pierce organization is crumbling due to a declined readership and, in a reflection of our current times, a general lack of interest in news that doesn’t operate first and foremost as entertainment. They’re amenable to Logan’s $24 billion offer, but they’re also inquiring about the “moral character” of the Roy clan, which, honestly just feels like them covering their asses ahead of a deal they know they need to make. Like with Gil Eavis, the idealists are happy to fall in bed with their enemies when the walls start closing in. As such, Logan orders everyone to make nice during an overnight stay, with Tom serving as “the straw man for the sins of ATN,” a role he’s willing to play. Logan’s relying on Shiv, meanwhile, to help him work over matriarch Nan, as the pair share similar politics.


Shiv, however, flails in the spotlight. First, she aims for flattery and, in doing so, degrades ATN. Then, in trying to assert her father’s financial strategy, she makes Pierce sound like a mere asset. “I suppose that just makes me a prim little matron if I object to being fumbled by the invisible hand of the market?” Nan asks. Logan is annoyed and Shiv senses it. She takes Tom outside and sounds near tears when she declares, overwhelmed with emotion, “I really want this.” That leads to her grand mistake, which director Mark Mylod eases us into with a slow, agonizing zoom on Shiv, who’s suffocating beneath her tightening anxiety. Couple that with the pace, the awkward patter, and the simmering rage bubbling beneath Cox’s pivots, and Shiv’s next line lands like a bomb: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Dad, just tell them it’s gonna be me.”

While this isn’t what Logan wants to hear, it’s good news for Nan. The next morning, she agrees to the Waystar acquisition. “Eight straight quarters of losses is a hard truth and we can’t do good news without deep pockets,” she admits. She asks for board seats, editorial protections, and even a demotion for Tom—“I won’t have that man overseeing our news”—all of which Logan agrees to. He won’t, however, publicly announce Shiv as his successor, which causes Nan to pull back. When Logan urges her to think about the money, she drops her perfunctory smile. “You can’t put a value on what we do.” Logan, in a display of monstrous, inarguable power, retorts, “Funny, I have put a value on what you do.” She tries to resist, but by episode’s end the Roys are on their way to owning the Pierces. “Money wins,” Logan says.

Jeremy Strong and Sarah Snook
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

Logan knows his words can move mountains. He knows their power. And he’s cruel because he wields that power. He flaunts the way he can lift you up and break you down. That’s what he’s doing to Shiv, who he wants to see work and suffer and grovel for her crown. Having seen the failures of privilege, he won’t outright gift his wards power—he will, however, dangle it. And it’s not Shiv’s decision when he completes the transaction, nor is it Nan’s. Not even the future of Waystar is enough to get him to compromise on that front.


But let’s talk about the other factor that helped Waystar secure Pierce: Kendall (Jeremy Strong). If there exist bizarro versions of each of the Roys in the Pierce family—we’ll get to Connor and Maxim soon, I swear—Kendall’s is Naomi Pierce (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), a fellow addict who’s had as many public dust-ups as he’s had private ones. Still, for all of her fuck-ups, her opinion is cherished by Nan. After the pair run off into the night together like lovesick teenagers, Naomi informs him she “came to fuck any deal.” She recalls getting splashed across Waystar-owned tabloids when she was strung out and maimed in a car crash. “Fuck you. Fuck your people. And fuck your peace pipe,” she says.

But in a gorgeous moment that’s half-strategy, half-confession, Kendall urges her to think about what she could do with all that money. “Just imagine getting out from under all of this,” he says, no doubt wishing things could be so simple for him. “You can take the money and then just get the fuck out.” It’s a sad moment in an encounter that, despite all the drugs and laughter, feels altogether sad. They’re miserable rich kids who were handed everything and fucked it all up, only to become pawns in their family’s games. “You’re such a little nothing, aren’t you?” Naomi asks him, a question that’s just as directed at herself. She tells Nan to sell. And, though Kendall might have saved the day, he still wakes up caked in his own shit.

Brian Cox and Kieran Culkin
Photo: Peter Kramer (HBO)

Also sad? Roman (Kieran Culkin) wanting Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) to pretend to be dead as he fucks her for the first time. That, as you might imagine, doesn’t go too well, especially once Tabitha demands some kind of autonomy in the situation. “If we politely agree on a wrong thing then it’s no longer wrong,” Roman says. “That’s basic boner arithmetic.” He retreats, then, to Gerri’s room, where the pair continue where they left off in the last episode. As Roman jerks off in her bathroom, she dubs him a “sick fucking animal” and cycles through all the shame-filled words you can imagine: “rotten,” “revolting,” “slime.” Most interestingly, perhaps, is her asking, “What if they could see you now?” Roman’s kink, if that’s what you want to call it, continues to hover in the nebulous realm of “wrong,” but it is compelling to consider how shame and self-loathing factors into it.


And, because all of that was some blend of devastating and scandalous, the episode allows us to laugh at the odd couple that is Connor (Alan Ruck) and Maxim (Perfect Strangers’ Mark Linn-Baker). While Maxim perceives Connor as being on the “abolish the Federal Reserve, fluoride is poison, pissing in jars end of things,” Connor slags the Brookings Institute associate as a “deep state wonk with both lips firmly glued to the Soros teat.” Maxim gets his goat by asking Connor to name a single member of Congress, but Connor lets it go after they share a bottle of port. “I got tipsy and offered him the State Department.” Just a perfect pairing, those two.

Stray observations

  • Hiam Abbass’ Marcia has been mostly absent this season, though this episode shows her bucking against Logan’s micro-managing. I loved the little details of their bickering, especially her criticizing his “new world” wine cellar, but this plot still feels undercooked to me. Hopefully we’ll get more of her in the coming weeks.
  • Christ, the Pierces are insufferable. Shakespeare quotes for days, and a guy with nothing to do except collect PhDs. “Once you’re done you won’t have to waste the 12 seconds it takes to look up something on Wikipedia,” Shiv cracks. I wouldn’t have made her apologize.
  • I kinda hate how much I love wasted Kendall. Yes, it is very bad for him to be on drugs, but I feel like it’s the only time we ever see him smile! And Jeremy Strong has such a nice smile!
  • Poor Tom. He was playing his role really well—“I’m the right wing ogre at your service”—but he’s still going to get sacrificed. That certainly won’t sit well with him as Shiv continues her ascent to power.
  • Rhea made a little move herself, forcing Logan to bump up the deal to $25 million. One imagines in the future she could be a formidable force either for or against this immovable object.
  • Among the many topics Gerri tells the Roys to avoid is the “cruises rumor mill,” which makes me wonder if the cover-up from last season will stay covered up. We’ve been getting a lot of reminders about it lately.
  • “Romulus, when you laugh do it at the same volume as everyone else.” I feel seen.
  • The Electric Circus sounds great, though.
  • “Are you an actress or a poetess or something?” Jesus, Kendall.
  • “Penis cat.”
  • Greg is now Gregory, FYI.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.